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Design and Simulation of UHF RFID Tag Antennas and Performance

Evaluation in Presence of a Metallic Surface


Tashi
1, 2
, Mohammad S. Hasan
2
, and Hongnian Yu
2


1
Department of Electrical Engineering, College of Science and Technology, Rinchending, Phuentsholing, Bhutan
2
Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Technology, Staffordshire University, Stafford, Staffordshire, ST18 0AD, UK

1
tashi@cst.edu.bt,
2
{m.s.hasan, h.yu}@staffs.ac.uk

Passive UHF RFID system have drawn considerable attention because it can provide a long reading range, high data rate, and small
antenna size. However, a passive UHF RFID system has challenges in tagging a metallic object due to effects of conducting materials
on the tag antenna performance. This study presents investigation and analysis of effects of a metallic surface on the performance of
commonly used label-type dipole tag antenna. The performance is evaluated based on the return loss and change in resonance
frequency of the tag antenna. To conduct the performance analysis, a folded dipole and a meandered dipole antenna are proposed for a
passive tag. The proposed antennas are designed on low profile antenna which can operate at 866 MHz in the UK and Europe UHF
RFID frequency band. The design also takes into account of impedance matching, feeding techniques, size-reduction, and bandwidth of
the passive UHF tag antenna. Finally, simulation result shows that when the tag antenna is mounted closer to a metallic surface, the
return loss of tag antenna is significantly increased and the resonance frequency is also shifted from the desired frequency.

Index TermsEffect of metal, folded dipole antenna, meandered dipole antenna, tag antenna performance.

I. INTRODUCTION
he rapid increase on requirements of automatic
identification in various areas such as item-level tracking,
access control, electronic toll collection, vehicle security [1]
etc. accelerates the demand for the radio frequency
identification (RFID).
RFID is a pervasive computing technology [2]. It consists
of a reader, tag, and application computer. A basic
configuration of passive RFID system is shown in Fig. 1.
Based on the method of powering, RFID system is classified
as a passive (without battery), active (with battery), and semi-
active. RFID system is also classified as the near-field and far-
field system based on the method of coupling between the
reader and tag. The near-field works on the electromagnetic
induction and it operate at low frequency (LF) around 125-134
kHz or high frequency (HF) at 13.8 MHz [3]. On the other
hand, the far-field works on the backscattering propagation
and it operate at ultra-high frequency (UHF) around 860-960
MHz or microwave frequency (MWF) at 2.5 GHz [3].

Fig. 1. A basic configuration of passive RFID system.
In recent years, passive UHF RFID system is getting
considerable attention because it can provide a long reading
range, high data rate, and small antenna size. Many
applications require tag antenna to be of low profile and easy
to be mounted or embedded on any objects. A low-cost label-
type dipole antenna printed on a very thin film is commonly
used as the tag antennas in passive UHF RFID applications [4,
5]. However, when mounted on a metallic object, the antenna
parameters such as radiation pattern, bandwidth, gain, input
impedance etc. change and the overall efficiency seriously
degrades due to the change of the reactance of the antenna
impedance [6, 7]. In the worst case, the tag may be not be
detected by the reader within its normal reading range.
The tag antenna problems for RFID system is first reported
by Foster and Burberry [8]. Only limited work on the effect of
metal near the antenna has been published. The effect of
metallic reflector on the folded dipole antenna is simulated by
Raumonen et al [9] and it has been reported that there is
decrease in radiation pattern when the antenna is taken closer
to the metallic reflector. Dobkin and Weignand [6] have
shown the experimental set-up to measure the reading distance
of a tag near metal plate and water filled container. They have
reported that there is a decrease in reading distance when the
tag is close to the metal plate. They also reported changes in
the tag antenna impedance when the tag is taken near to a
metallic plate. In [7], the power and backscatter
communication radio link budgets that allow the tag designer
to quantify the effects of tag material attachment is studied.
And they have reported a decrease in tag antenna gain when
placed near the metallic surface. The effects on the antenna
parameters when placed on paper and plastic is studied by
Radi et al [10] and it has been reported that there are shift in
resonance frequency when the antenna substrate are changed.
Mittra and Hoenschel [11] have designed a tag antenna that
employs Electromagnetic Bandgap (EBG) surfaces substrate
to have less sensitivity to the environment. However, their tag
antenna parameters like radiation pattern and impedance
characteristics change little when placed on metal or glass.
The effect of the substrate, metal-line and surface material on
the performance of RFID tag antenna is investigated in [12].
This paper has reported that the readability of the tag
drastically decreases when the tag is attached to a high
permittivity and high loss target object. Paper [13] has studied
performance of the RFID tag antenna based on the antenna
trace materials like copper, aluminium and sliver. It has been
T
978-1-4673-0248-7/11/$26.00 2011 IEEE
observed that copper deposit and silver inks are competitive
materials compared to aluminium when using 1 mm antenna
trace width. However, deposited copper has superior
conductivity, and can work with much less deposited material
than silver and with narrow line widths.
In this paper, the effect of a metallic surface on the return
loss and change in resonance frequency of label-type dipole
antenna is studied and analysed. Two variants of dipole
antenna; folded dipole and meandered dipole antenna are
proposed to study the effect of metallic surface. First the
proposed tag antennas are designed and analysed in free space.
Then, the effects of a metallic surface on the proposed
antennas are analysed. The rest of the paper is organised as
follows. Section II discusses the proposed antenna designs.
Section III presents simulation results of the proposed
antennas. Section IV addresses the performance of proposed
tag antennas near or on metallic surface. Finally, section V
draws some conclusions.
II. THE PROPOSED ANTENNA DESIGN
The proposed folded dipole and meandered dipole antenna
design in presented in the following sections.
A. Folded Dipole Antenna
The geometry of the proposed folded dipole antenna is
shown in Fig. 2 and is considered to use in a smart label for
cardboard box tagging in warehouse environment. It should be
tuneable in range of 865 to 868 MHz to operate in the UK and
Europe UHF RFID frequency band. Therefore, the operating
frequency of the proposed tag antenna is selected as 866 MHz.
It is printed on a thin polyimide substrate with a dielectric
constant (
r
) of 3.5 and loss tangent () of 0.003. The thickness
(t
s
) of the substrate is 0.05 mm. This substrate is very cheap
and it can be easily mounted to the cardboard box. The top
antenna trace is made of copper with thickness (t
a
) of 0.018
mm. The Alien Higgs-3 [14] is selected as the tag chip, which
exhibits an impedance of Z
C
= (31 - j212) at 866 MHz
resonance frequency. In order to deliver maximum power
from the tag antenna to chip, the input impedance of the
proposed tag antenna should be Z
A
= (31 + j212) at the
resonance frequency. The proposed folded dipole antenna has
two elements: main radiating element and parasitic element.
The key antenna parameters are: antenna length L, antenna
breath B, antenna trace width w, folded arm length a, parallel
distance d between the main element and the parasitic
element, and the separation gap between folded arm and
parasitic element s.
B. Meandered Dipole Antenna
The geometry of the proposed meandered dipole antenna is
shown in Fig. 3. The operating frequency, chip impedance,
substrate properties and application of the proposed
meandered dipole antenna is considered the same as the
proposed folded dipole antenna discussed in section II.A. The
T-match feeding technique is used to feed the proposed
antenna to match the antenna impedance to the chip
impedance. The proposed meandered dipole antenna has
several key parameters: length of antenna L, meander step
height h, meander step width w, conductor spacing s, length of
last meandered conductor B, and the separation distance
between the feed element and main radiating element d.

Fig. 2. Geometry of the proposed folded dipole antenna.

Fig. 3. Geometry of the proposed meandered dipole antenna.
III. SIMULATION RESULTS
The proposed tag antennas are simulated in the Sonnet Lite
electromagnetic (EM) simulator [15] which simulates based
on the method of moments (MoM).
A. Folded Dipole Antenna
A numerous parameter sweep are performed in the
simulation and each result is examined. The final optimised
parameters of the proposed folded dipole antenna are given in
Table I. Fig. 4 shows the input resistance against UHF
frequency of the proposed folded dipole antenna with various
separation gaps, s. Fig. 5 shows the simulated input reactance
against UHF frequency of the proposed folded dipole antenna
with various separation gap, s. It is clear that input resistance
and reactance can be increased or decreased by varying s. The
simulation result shows that when s = 5 mm, the antenna input
impedance is complex conjugately matched to the chip input
impedance.
Fig. 6 presents the return loss of the proposed folded dipole
antenna at 866 MHz resonance frequency. The minimum
value of the simulated return loss (S
11
) at resonance frequency
is -21.59 dB. At half-power return loss (< -3 dB), the proposed
folded dipole antenna covers entire UHF RFID frequency
range (i.e. 860 MHz to 960 MHz) and the proposed antenna
can be used in the world wide UHF RFID system. The
simulated < -10 dB bandwidth of the proposed antenna is 67.5
MHz (7.79%), from 836 MHz to 903.5 MHz which can easily
operate in the UK and Europe UHF RFID system. Both -3 dB
and -10 dB bandwidth meet the requirement (500 kHz) of the
ISO/IEC 18000-7 standard [16].
TABLE I
PARAMETERS OF THE PROPOSED FOLDED DIPOLE ANTENNA (DIMENSION IN
MM)
Parameters L B s w a d
Values 108 28 4 2 6 12

Fig. 4. Simulated input resistance against UHF frequency of the proposed
folded dipole antenna with various separation gaps, s.

Fig. 5. Simulated input reactance against UHF frequency of the proposed
folded dipole antenna with various separation gaps, s.

Fig. 6. Simulated return loss of the proposed folded dipole antenna at 866
MHz resonance frequency.
B. Meandered Dipole Antenna
Table II presents the final optimised parameters of the
proposed meandered dipole antenna. Fig. 7 shows the
simulated input resistance against UHF frequency of the
proposed meandered dipole antenna with various separation
distances, d. Fig. 8 shows the simulated input reactance
against UHF frequency of the proposed meandered dipole
antenna with various separation distances, d. It is clear that
input resistance and reactance can be increased or decreased
by varying d. The simulation result shows that when d = 5
mm, the antenna input impedance is complex conjugately
matched to the chip input impedance.
Fig. 9 presents the return loss of the proposed meandered
dipole antenna at 866 MHz resonance frequency. The
minimum value of the simulated return loss (S
11
) at the
resonance frequency is -22.76 dB. The half-power bandwidth
(return loss < -3 dB) is 77 MHz (8.89%), from 829.5 MHz to
906.5 MHz. The simulated < -10 dB bandwidth of the
proposed antenna is 25 MHz (2.89%), from 855 MHz to 880
MHz. Both at -3 dB and -10 dB return loss, the proposed tag
antenna can be used in the UK and Europe UHF RFID system.
Also -3 dB and -10 dB bandwidth of the proposed antenna
meet the requirement of (500 KHz) of the ISO/IEC 18000-7
standard [16].
TABLE II
PARAMETERS OF THE PROPOSED MEANDERED DIPOLE ANTENNA (DIMENSION
IN MM)
Parameters L B h w s d
Values 68 22 18 2 4 5

Fig. 7. Simulated input resistance against UHF frequency of the proposed
meandered dipole antenna with various separation distances, d.

Fig. 8. Simulated input reactance against UHF frequency of the proposed
meandered dipole antenna with various separation distances, d.

Fig. 9. Simulated return loss of the proposed meandered dipole antenna at 866
MHz resonance frequency.
C. Comparison of the Proposed Folded and Meandered
Dipole Antenna
Fig. 10 shows the comparison for the area of the proposed
folded dipole and meandered dipole antenna. By using the
meandered dipole antenna, an area reduction of 50.53% can be
achieved. Therefore, meandered dipole antenna would offer a
compact and robust passive tag which is demanded by most of
the RFID applications. However, the proposed meandered
dipole antenna suffers from a narrower bandwidth
characteristics than the folded dipole antenna as shown in Fig.
11. Therefore, a trade-off or compromise among the area,
bandwidth, and performance parameters is needed based on
the type of tag antenna and the RFID applications. For
example, if the size of tag requirement for RFID is a crucial
factor, then the meandered dipole antenna can be used.

Fig. 10. The area comparison of the proposed tag antennas.

Fig. 11. The bandwidth comparison for the proposed tag antennas at < -3 dB
and < -10 dB return loss.
IV. PERFORMANCE OF THE TAG ANTENNA WHEN PLACED ON A
METALLIC SURFACE
The simulation environment to investigate the performance
of tag antenna when mounted on a metallic surface is set-up in
the Sonnet lite EM simulator. The effect of a metallic surface
on the tag antenna is evaluated by the return loss and
resonance frequency of the tag antenna. Fig. 12 shows how a
tag antenna is mounted on a metallic surface in the EM
simulator to evaluate the effect of a metallic surface. The tag
antenna is placed above the metallic surface keeping air as the
medium between them. The separation gap between the tag
antenna and metal is d. The infinite ground plane of the EM
simulator is used as a metallic surface which is 0.2 mm thick.
The type of the metallic surface for this analysis is considered
as copper. The metallic surface is taken closer to the tag
antenna by step d = 10 mm in each step. At every step, the
return loss value, bandwidth and resonance frequency are
examined.
After performing a numerous number of simulations, it is
observed that when the tag antenna is placed above the
metallic surface more than the quarter wavelength of the
antennas resonance frequency, there is not much by effect
metallic surface. Therefore, the performance evaluation
emphasises when the distance between the tag antenna and a
metallic surface is less than quarter of the wavelength.
Fig. 13 and Fig. 14 show the simulation results of the
proposed folded dipole and meandered dipole antenna,
respectively for various separation gaps d. In both cases, when
the tag is taken closer to a metallic surface by step d = 10 mm,
there is a significant increase in the return loss and change in
the resonance frequency from the desired frequency. The
return loss and resonance frequency in the free space for a
folded and meandered dipole antenna are shown in Fig. 6 and
Fig. 9, respectively. When d is less than 40 mm, the return
losses of the proposed antennas are greater than -3 dB and the
tag antenna may not work at all since it is short circuited by
the metallic surface and suffers from a high return loss. The
increase in the return loss is due to the change in the antenna
impedance according to (1) which is taken from [17],

dB
C
Z
A
Z
C
Z
A
Z
loss return


10
log 20 (1)

where, Z
A
is antenna impedance and Z
C
is chip impedance.

Fig. 12. The isometric view of the simulation model set-up to investigate the
performance of a tag antenna on metallic surface.

Fig. 13. The return loss of the proposed folded dipole antenna for various
separation gaps d between the antenna and metallic surface.

Fig. 14. The return loss of the proposed meandered dipole antenna for various
separation gaps, d between the antenna and metallic surface.
V. CONCLUSION
In this paper, a folded dipole and a meandered dipole
antenna are proposed on very low profile for a passive UHF
RFID tag. The simulation results show that the meandered
dipole antenna structure offers a compact and small tag size.
However, it suffers from the narrow bandwidth. The
performance of the proposed tag antennas on a metallic
surface is studied and analysed. The study shows that the tag
antenna is short circuited by a metallic surface when the tag
antenna is taken closer to a metallic surface. Thus, return loss
increases due to the change in the tag antenna impedance. It
results in an impedance mismatch between the tag antenna and
chip. Therefore, power supply to the chip is reduced and the
tag may not be detected by the reader within the normal
reading range. So the possible solution to improve the
performance may be by designing an antenna which uses
metallic surface as the ground plane such as Micro-strip patch
antenna and planar inverted-F antenna (PIFA). The research
team has already done some investigations on designing a
micro-strip patch antenna prototype for passive UHF RFID tag
which will be published in a future paper.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work was supported by the eLINK (east-west Link for
Innovation, Networking and Knowledge Exchange) project.


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